In this fandom, there are things you don’t talk about. Because the BNFs are decent people, mostly, but they’re still BNFs. So, of course, Galaxy Quest fandom has its share of slavish hangers-on who’ll bite your head off (and set your inbox on fire) if you dare to voice an opinion their beloved BNFs might disapprove of.
I don’t like having my head bitten off, so these days I keep my mouth shut in public about most of the hot-button issues. I don’t mention Fred Kwan’s pot bust, I don’t call Roc a Gary Stu, I don’t bait the Alexander/Jason tinhats. And I Don’t Talk About GalaxyCon ‘99.
Most of that stuff is optional. I’ve done some of it myself. But man, if you want to get anywhere in Galaxy Quest fandom, you Don’t Talk About GalaxyCon ‘99.
I’m a n00b, by Quest standards-- started watching with the New Adventures, right as LJ was taking off. The funny thing is, I’m not much younger than the biggest BNFs. They just got a head start, and were fans of the old show even though they were barely born when it was airing. I hear older fans grumble about it, sometimes. They wonder how a bunch of twentysomethings ended up not only the biggest names in fandom, but in charge of the con and friendly with the cast, besides.
“That picture from Jason and Gwen’s wedding is circulating on Tumblr again,” I tell my housemate. “Did you know Brandon Wheeger was a groomsman? He was barely out of high school-- how did he even manage that?”
Max rolls her eyes at me. GQ isn’t one of her main fandoms, though I’ve made her watch most of the episodes on Netflix. Still, she picks up enough secondhand to know most of the main fannish players. “You’ve got a really weird grudge against that guy, you know,” she tells me. “You need to drop it. You’re friends with Katelyn, aren’t you?”
“Mostly I just really like her fic,” I say. To be fair, she writes really, really good fic. Her Laliari is amazing, and she even makes me like Roc. “The fact that she’s part of Brandon’s weird cabal is something I’m willing to overlook.”
“It’s not a cabal,” Max reminds me. “They’re the concom, not the Illuminati.”
“The Illuminati would be less banhammer-happy,” I grumble, but I let it drop. GQ fandom, for all its weirdness, is pretty well-run by its benevolent overlords: minimal wank, maximal inclusiveness, zero tolerance of cosplayer gropers or entitled man-children. I’ve even volunteered at GalaxyCon the last few years, mostly because Katelyn comes up with really awesome programming for the fanwork track, and she knows I can be trusted to not go mad with power if she lets me sit on her panels.
And, of course, because I know that You Don’t Talk About GalaxyCon ‘99.
So it’s not super surprising when she pings me, one evening after work. I’ve been trying to clip for a new vid, but it’s not coming together, so seeing her name pop up on GChat is a welcome distraction.
tawny_quester: Hey, are you free this weekend?
middleagedlaredo: sure, why?
tawny_quester: Concom’s meeting, and we want to pull in some of the regular volunteers to brainstorm for this year’s con.
tawny_quester: And we have an announcement you guys should hear first.
I’ve never actually been to Brandon’s house, or spent much time around him beyond the all-hands stuff all the volunteers go to. When I see him, he’s either at the center of a knot of people, putting out con-related fires, or I’m in the audience and he’s moderating a panel with one of the GQ cast.
Brandon, it turns out, lives in a bungalow in Glendale with a couple of housemates. I can vaguely recall that he has a day job doing something IT-ish, and apparently it pays well enough to fill a basement with Quest memorabilia. Most of it signed.
“Holy crap,” I blurt out as soon as I’m down the stairs, beelining for the nearest, biggest glass case. “Is that the cracked beryllium sphere from ‘Dead in the Water’ in season two?”
Katelyn, following behind me, laughs. “Good eye!” she says. “Hey, Brandon, you’ve met Casey, right?”
He’s conferring with the other members of the cabal at the far end of the room-- although I really need to stop thinking of them as the cabal. Especially if they’re letting me join.
He stands up, anyway, with a final word to Kyle (who runs the prop building and cosplay tracks) and Hollister (who runs the main fansite, and retired from the GalaxyCon trivia contest two years ago because no one could beat him). “Hey, good to see you again,” he says, offering me his hand. “I like your zine.”
“Oh!” I say, surprised and pleased. “You saw that?”
“Yeah, Katelyn gave me a copy. You must be pretty good at cat-herding, to have put that together.”
“Eh, I do okay,” I say, because it doesn’t hurt to be modest. I am amazing at cat-herding, though.
The others at the meeting aren’t people I’m close with, not personally. But by reputation I know they’re smart and dedicated, the kind of fans who make cool things for GQ fandom and devote a lot of their time to it.
Gina’s an amazing cosplayer-- she’s even got Laliari’s mannerisms down-- and her boyfriend Marco builds insane screen-accurate props. He’s got a tutorial up for installing the guts of a cell phone into a toy vox so it’s usable. Lee I don’t know as well, but he was the only person to give Hollister a real challenge when he still entered the trivia contest, and he’s won every year since; plus, he does the Questlog podcast. And Priya’s been co-modding the GQ Big Bang for years, along with secret_quester and a few other exchanges. Being included in this group is kind of flattering, actually.
Once everyone’s said their hellos and found their seats on one of the overstuffed couches, Brandon clears his throat. “So, you’re probably wondering why we asked you here,” he says. He sounds a little nervous, to my surprise. “Uh. So. First of all, what we tell you can’t leave this room. Some of it not for a while, and some of it not ever. We wouldn’t have invited you here if we didn’t think you were trustworthy, but if you don’t think you can keep a confidence, say so now.”
“Wait,” Gina says. “You have an in with the cast. Is there something to the rumors about a new show?”
“If there is, you have to be able to keep it to yourself,” Katelyn says, and she’s about a hundred times more serious than I’ve ever seen her. “Because that’s the least of it.”
There’s been gossip circulating about a new iteration of the show-- a reboot, or a new cast in the same universe-- since Gwen and Jason announced that there wouldn’t be another movie with the current line-up. Six seasons and three movies is a pretty good run, and everyone knows Alexander has been itching to spend more time with the theater he owns. Tommy’s kind of done with acting, and Guy’s been getting more in-demand as a screenwriter. And Fred and Jane-- well, nobody really knows what Fred and Jane get up to in their down-time. They’re kind of private.
“I’m having kind of a hard time thinking of bigger news than a new show,” Priya says. “I mean, new canon! There hasn’t been any since before Tumblr took off, so anything new’s gonna bring in a giant wave of baby fans.”
The four of them-- Brandon, Katelyn, Kyle and Hollister-- exchange conspiratorial glances. “This is bigger,” Hollister says.
There’s a vox on the coffee table, sitting on top of a pile of Questerian back issues, and it chirps, distracting us. Brandon picks it up. It’s a really good one, I notice-- usually even the best fan-made ones don’t light up properly. This looks like the real thing. “Five minutes, okay?” Brandon says into it, and puts it back down.
Lee frowns. “What are you--?” he begins, but Brandon waves a hand.
“I’ll explain that soon. First of all, I want to ask you guys something. What do you know about GalaxyCon ‘99?”
There’s a long, awkward silence.
“You don’t talk about GalaxyCon ‘99,” I blurt out, and suddenly everyone’s looking at me. I clear my throat, a little uncomfortable. “I mean, no one does, except maybe backchannel if they’re feeling daring.”
“Well, what have you heard backchannel?” Kyle asks
“Um,” I say, buying time. “Well-- this is just a rumor, mind you-- but I heard the cast put together a publicity stunt to drum up buzz for the New Adventures, and it backfired. Like, literally. The pyrotechnics went off in the parking lot; they blew up a bunch of cars and put a hole in the side of the convention center.”
Kyle looks smug. “Told you that was the story that’d take,” he says to Katelyn, who rolls her eyes at him.
“So what really happened?” Marco asks.
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Brandon says. “Hey, could you guys all do me a favor? Stand up.”
Puzzled, I do it; I can see the others are just as confused. Brandon picks up the vox again. “We’re good to go. Nine pods, please,” he says, and a white circle of light flickers to life under my feet.
“What the hell?” Lee says.
“Like I said, you wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Brandon says. “So we’re showing you, instead.”
Half an hour later, I’m over the moon. Literally-- the Protector II is parked in lunar orbit, on the dark side so no one on Earth freaks out. I’m still wobbly from the pod ride, and boggled by the fact that I’m on an actual freaking spaceship, with actual freaking aliens, and too delighted by the fact that the fandom I love best in the world is really real-- well, sort of-- to care about much else.
Still, being ushered onto the command deck and finding Fred and Jane waiting there is pretty awesome. “Hey, Brandon,” Fred says. “How’re the new kids taking it?”
“This is so cool,” Gina says reverently, and the rest of us nod along.
“I feel like I just found Narnia in the back of my closet,” says Priya.
“I feel like about a million tiny weird things just started making more sense,” says Lee.
“Can we see the digital conveyor?” asks Marco.
“Wait,” I say. “Is Jane a real alien?”
“I am Thermian, yes,” Jane says. The first few times I saw her at the con, I remember, she’d seemed to be staying in character. That’s worn off over time, mostly. But she still hasn’t branched out much, acting-wise-- the last role she played was a robot. “My people modeled this ship after what they saw in the original Galaxy Quest recordings.”
“Thermians don’t really have a good idea of what ‘fiction’ is,” Fred says. “Or they didn’t, for a while. They’re getting better at it.”
“We do well enough,” Jane says-- or maybe she’s really Laliari, after all. She and Fred share a fond, amused look. “We are, after all, contributing to the next iteration of the story.”
“So there is going to be another show?” Priya asks.
“You’re on a spaceship, and that’s what you’re worried about?” Katelyn points out, not unfairly.
“Yeah, there’s going to be another show,” Brandon says, because apparently today is determined to be the best day of my life. “Gwen’s bankrolling it-- she managed to snag a bunch of biomedical and tech patents for Thermian stuff, so they don’t have to go through the network to get a pilot made. It’s going to be a new crew, new stories-- and the four of us are getting hired as consultants.”
“But first,” says Hollister, “we need to know what we’re being consulted about. So the Thermians are taking us on as ensigns for a year.”
“Oh my god,” says Marco. “I am literally as jealous right now as it is humanly possibly to be.”
“Well, you get to take over the concom while we’re gone,” says Kyle. “And we gave you a tour of the ship first. That’s not bad.”
“Why tell us at all, though?” I ask. “I mean, this is kind of a big deal. There’s life in outer space, and it’s nerdy.”
“Eh, it’d be a pain to do GalaxyCon if the people running it don’t know what’s up,” Fred says. “Although Laliari and I are going on this year’s mission, so we can’t make the con-- it’s the others who you’ll be working with the most.”
“When Jason and Gwen asked us to do damage control after ‘99, they promised they’d pay us back for it eventually,” Hollister says. “If we’re passing the troll-wrangling on to you guys, it only seems fair that you get to be in on the secret too.”
“Hey, guys?” Lee interrupts, then. He’d wandered over to one of the duty stations halfway through the conversation, and now he’s watching the screen, looking worried. “Um, I could be reading this wrong-- I actually hope I’m reading this wrong-- but is that a proximity alert?” He points to a red blip on the screen, moving towards a green blip that looks awfully familiar from the show.
“Aw, jeez,” Brandon says, leaning in past Lee to poke at the touchscreen. “That’s not good. Laliari, did Mathesar mention any visitors he was expecting?”
“He did not,” she says. “Ought I alert the crew?”
“Yes, please,” Brandon says, and right then a smaller red blip leaves the larger one, moving much faster. “Um, and possibly hold on to something--”
The ship shudders and lurches, then, knocking half of us off our feet. From my position on the ground, I can see Katelyn and Kyle stagger to the nearest duty stations; the doors hiss open to let in a flood of worried-looking Thermians. Red lights start flashing, the klaxon wails, a Thermian flings himself into the command chair and starts issuing orders.
I do my best to get out of the way, and wind up next to Fred, who’s kept his feet and looks totally unconcerned. “Pretty cool, huh?” he asks me.
“Aren’t we in danger?” I ask.
“Eh, they’ve got a system. And kind of a reputation, at this point-- Mathesar was telling me earlier how their biggest problem these days is picking which planets to liberate from tyranny. They get a lot of distress calls.”
One of the consoles goes up in a shower of sparks, making me jump and yelp a little. Fred doesn’t even flinch.
“So this is what Brandon and Katelyn and the others are signing on for?” I say.
“Yep,” says Fred. We watch Hollister yank a Thermian away from a burning console, pat out the flames on her uniform sleeve, and take over her duty station as she’s hustled off to the medical quarters.
After about fifteen minutes of scary jolts and arguing with the three-eyed purple dude on the viewscreen, the Thermians score a critical hit on the bad guys, and they limp off into hyperspace with their tails between their legs. They actually do have tails. That’s not a metaphor.
The Thermians cheer and clap. Brandon high-fives Kyle. Katelyn grins at me, flushed and jubilant, and says “This is awesome, isn’t it?”
In a sane world, I ought to think they’re crazy. I ought to think they’re idiots to risk their lives, to try and act like heroes out of a TV show. I ought to want out of there.
All I can say, though, is “This is so awesome.”
Leaving the command deck, Brandon and I are the last ones out the door. I hesitate in the corridor, and he notices, stopping as well. “You okay?” he asks. “I know that was a little intense.”
“Why did you pick us?” I ask. Really I mean ‘why did you pick me,’ but I’m not quite brave enough for that.
He seems to get it anyway. “Katelyn recommended you,” he says. “We each picked a couple of people, and then narrowed the list down. We wanted to give some people who weren’t as high-profile as us a chance to do something cool.”
I might have bristled at that, a day ago, or found it condescending, but now I can’t be anything but grateful. “You didn’t have to tell us all this, though,” I said. “Not really.”
“Yeah, but it’s too cool to keep to ourselves,” he says, and I remember that he’s a fan, too, that he gets so excited about the things he loves that it’s tell someone about them or explode.
I feel like I have to make a confession. “I owe you an apology,” I say.
“Um, I may have had kind of a grudge against you for a while, for being so close to the cast, and being a BNF, and things. And I said some stuff on the anonmeme I’m regretting pretty hard right now.”
He laughs. “Apology accepted,” he says. “The anonmeme’s a pit, anyway. C’mon, let’s go catch our pods.”
Coming back to Earth is a bit of a letdown-- especially since I’m sworn to secrecy-- but it’s worth it. And the pod ride is fun the second time, once I’m a little more used to it.
“Hey, how was your super secret meeting?” Max asks when I get home that night, feeling like my head is so full it might pop off and float away. “Are you in the cabal now?”
“Actually? Yeah,” I say. “And I was wrong about Brandon. He’s a good dude. He and the rest of the concom are stepping down, and Katelyn tapped me to be her replacement.” That’s the least exciting thing I can tell her, but it’s still pretty great.
“Wow, really?” Max frowns. “I figured those guys were in it for life. What’re they stepping down to do?”
“Oh, you know,” I say. “Gafiating for a while. Fandom’s no fun when it’s too much like a job.” Unless your job is awesome space adventurer. Oh god, still so jealous.
At least there’s going to be a new show. A new show, and I can’t talk about it! I might actually burst into flames. Someone better leak some spoilers soon.
Something strikes me, suddenly, and I have to hold back a laugh. The New Adventures are my favorite show for a lot of reasons-- I love the characters and the way they interact, I love the optimistic tone, I love that it’s occasionally silly but never ironic or winking. But the original series never grabbed me the same way, and I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. Yeah, the NA episodes have better scripts for the most part, and better effects, but the two shows aren’t massively different. Except that-- well. I always felt silly admitting it, but the New Adventures felt more real. Like the actors really knew what it was like to be their characters, in a way they hadn’t before.
Now I know why. And if the cost of knowing is that I still can’t talk about GalaxyCon ‘99, well-- I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.